GAME OF THE WEEKEND: No. 15 Oklahoma vs. No. 16 Washington, Sat. 9:00 p.m.
Oklahoma looks like they’re going to be one of the top four teams in the Big 12, a sleeper to win the league. And Washington? They look like they are the third-best team in the Pac-12 right now, sliding in right behind Utah as Arizona’s main challenger in the conference.
But here’s the thing: I’m not anyone really knows just how good these two teams are. The Huskies are the bigger question mark at this point. Nigel Williams-Goss is the real deal, and the nation’s best shot-blocker Robert Upshaw is one of the five most valuable players in the country, but if the Huskies are a borderline NIT team without a guy that plays 18 minutes a game and struggles to hit free throws, just how good are they? And Oklahoma? Their starting five can matchup with anyone, particularly with the way that TaShawn Thomas has played of late and how well Ryan Spangler is shooting. But they don’t have much depth at all.
By 11:00 p.m. on Saturday night, we should have a much better idea about both of these teams.
THE OTHER GAME OF THE WEEKEND: No. 12 Ohio State vs. No. 24 North Carolina, Sat. 1:00 p.m.
So what’s going on with North Carolina this season? What about Marcus Paige? Why is he struggling so much, and what is going to happen when he is forced to deal with a defender as good as Shannon Scott is? That should be a major concern for Tar Heels fans heading into Saturday. The good news? North Carolina should be downright abusive to the Buckeye front line.
FIVE MORE GAMES TO WATCH
- UCLA vs. No. 1 Kentucky, Sat. 3:30 p.m.: I’m not convinced that UCLA is all that good this season. In fact, I think there’s a chance that they’re an NIT team. They do have some athletes on the wing, but we’ll see how Bryce Alford is able to deal with the Kentucky pressure.
- Syracuse at No. 7 Villanova, Sat. 1:00 p.m.: A good old-fashioned Big East rivalry game! Syracuse has had some major struggles this season as Jim Boeheim tries to find the right lineups and rotations. Villanova hasn’t had that problem at all.
- Harvard at No. 6 Virginia, Sun. 12:00 p.m.: This game may end up being played in the 50s, but that doesn’t mean these teams are bad. And as good as Virginia has been this season, Harvard is legit. There’s a reason they’ve won a game is two straight tournaments.
- Indiana vs. No. 23 Butler, Sat. 2:30 p.m.: Talk about a difference in styles. Indiana wants run and gun and fire threes and play as fast as possible. Butler wants to muck things up as much as they can. This is a very, very important game for the Hoosiers, who haven’t done much in the non-conference.
- St. Mary’s at No. 24 St. John’s, Fri. 7:00 p.m.: The Gaels looked really good going into Creighton and knocking off the Bluejays. They didn’t when they lost to Northern Arizona at home. I’m not convinced the Johnnies are all that good yet, but if they are, this is the kind of game that they win.
WHO’S GETTING UPSET?: No. 3 Arizona at UTEP, Fri. 11:00 p.m.
UTEP is good. I’m not saying this just to hype them up or to make this game sound more intriguing than it is. The Miners are good enough that they will compete with Louisiana Tech and Old Dominion for the Conference USA title this season. Vince Hunter is a legitimate NBA prospect, and when combined with Julian Washburn and Cedrick Lang, it gives Tim Floyd a front line with the size to hang with Arizona, at least on paper. And that’s before you consider the Tim Floyd effect.
Arizona is very, very good, but they’re playing on the road late on a Friday night against a team that’s sneaky-talented. These are the kinds of games when good teams can get picked off.
- No. 4 Louisville at Western Kentucky, Sat. 12:00 p.m.: Louisville did not look all that impressive against UNC-Wilmington. Western Kentucky just won at Ole Miss. Montrezl Harrell yelled in the press conference about his teammates being selfish.
- N.C. State vs. No. 22 West Virginia, Sat. 9:30 p.m.: The Wolfpack are better than West Virginia this season, but the Mountaineers are pressing all-out this season. How will Cat Barber handle it?
- Eastern Washington at Cal, Fri. 10:00 p.m.: Ty Wallace is one of the nation’s most underrated players, but Eastern Washington is a talented mid-major team that could win a game in the NCAA tournament.
- No. 14 Utah at UNLV, Sat. 11:30 p.m.: UNLV has the talent to be a top 25 team. Will they put it all together at any point this season?
- No. 17 Maryland at Oklahoma State, Sun. 2:00 p.m.: Going on the road in non-conference play is never an easy thing to do, particularly when you’re missing your best player (Dez Wells).
FIVE STORY LINES
1. Iona at George Mason, Sat. 7:00 p.m.: A terrific matchup of mid-major programs that will be shown on NBCSN.
2a. VCU at Cincinnati, Sat. 12:00 p.m.: Both VCU and Cincinnati really, really need to start amassing non-conference wins thanks to the how poorly their leagues have done this year. The only two teams that may need wins more this weekend than these two teams are …
2b. SMU at Michigan, Sat. 12:00 p.m.: … SMU has struggled this season in the absence of Markus Kennedy. And Michigan? They lost to NJIT and Eastern Michigan before getting blown out by Arizona.
3. Purdue vs. No. 21 Notre Dame, Sat. 5:15 p.m.: Notre Dame is putting up ridiculous numbers offensively, but they’re doing it against an atrocious, embarrassing schedule. Purdue is a borderline tournament team at best, but they’ll guard and they have a ton of size. How real are the Irish? We’ll find out.
4. No. 13 Iowa State at Drake, Sat. 5:00 p.m. and Iowa at Northern Iowa, Sat. 7:30 p.m.: The four in-state teams play on Saturday, although I wish they would let us see Northern Iowa play Iowa State. Is it too late to change that?
5. Missouri at Illinois, Sat. 2:00 p.m.: The Braggin’ Rights Game.